Saturday, December 30, 2006

Uptown identity crisis - The Manhattanville vs. W. Harlem debate

Daily News

Uptown identity crisis
The Manhattanville vs. W. Harlem debate

Signs around neighborhood don't set the record straight. Manhattanville Station post office is on 125th St. ...

... but so is the Heart of Harlem at Engine 37-Ladder 40.

As Columbia University seeks to expand, there is almost as much debate about what to call its target neighborhood - bounded by 125th and 135th Sts., Broadway and Riverside Drive - as there is about the project itself.
Is it Manhattanville, as Columbia contends, or West Harlem?

"It's an odd sort of a quibble," said Eric Washington, author of "Manhattanville: Old Heart of West Harlem."
The answer to the neighborhood's future, according to Washington, is rooted in its past.
Manhattanville, a name inspired by the small community of middle-class farmers and merchants that formed to the north of the Manhattan Valley in 1806, sat in the spot now marked by the intersection of 125th St. and Broadway.

From the start, it was separate from Harlem. In fact, a newspaper article called the new village a "delightful spot" that would "soon rival the town of Harlem."
Harlem, on the other hand, was a working-class town on the east side of Manhattan Island. By 1900, Harlem had spread across the island toward Manhattanville, thanks to a population boom.
At the time, some Manhattanville residents, concerned that their village was being absorbed by Harlem, decided to call their neighborhood West Harlem to "give it a proper designation," the New York Times reported in January 1900.

Today, the distinction between the two neighborhoods is still as unclear as it was more than a century ago. The Manhattanville Post Office, for example, sits only five blocks away from the Cotton Club, a staple of old Harlem.
"You can't literally draw a line in the street and say this side is this, and that side is that," said Manhattan Borough Historian Michael Miscione.

He noted that city maps show neighborhoods called East and Central Harlem, but no place called West Harlem. In its place is Manhattanville.
There also is some uncertainty about the names of the two neighborhoods in the Encyclopedia of New York City. While the encyclopedia calls Manhattanville a "19th-century village," it also describes Harlem as a neighborhood "bounded on the West by Morningside Ave."

Under that definition, a small piece of land between Morningside and Riverside Drive falls outside the parameters of Harlem. The book is mum on what to call it.
"If I were asked," said encyclopedia editor Kenneth Jackson, "I would answer Manhattanville."
Some locals contend the university is designating the proposed expansion zone Manhattanville, and avoiding any reference to Harlem, to skirt accusations its project will displace a low-income minority community.

But the university counters it is seeking to honor the historical significance of the neighborhood.
"We have always referred to the old manufacturing area of Manhattanville, where we are seeking to expand as Manhattanville in West Harlem," said La-Verna Fountain, a Columbia spokeswoman.

Whether Columbia's stance is a tribute to the neighborhood, or public relations spin move, the university seems to have struck a balance, according to historians, who noted the two names, along with the neighborhoods they represent, have mingled over time.

"You can call it both names," said Washington.
Miscione agreed.

"Both names have a legitimate legacy," he said. Originally published on December 31, 2006

Don't Mourn, Monitor

Don't Mourn, Monitor
By Gene Russianoff and Dave Palmer

Tragically, tens of thousands of the New Yorkers who go to the polls on Tuesday, September 11 will be unable to vote, victims of an antiquated and underfunded election system that has all the flaws--if not the fame--of Florida's. Far too many will have to cope with long lines, broken and vote-losing voting machines, inadequately trained poll workers, chaotic poll sites, a lack of qualified interpreters for voters who speak languages other than English, insufficient help for voters with disabilities, and jammed voter help phone lines.

This year, however, New York City voters will have a chance to do something about this sorry state of affairs. They can join in the most ambitious effort in the nation to document how voters are treated at the polls.

Amazingly, New York City had more uncounted, unmarked and spoiled ballots than Florida in last presidential election, according to the recent CalTech/MIT study on voting in America.

In the Bronx, the rate of lost votes was a shocking 4.7 percent of all votes cast; that is compared to Florida's 2.9 percent. The undercount in the Greenpoint-Williamsburg sections of Brooklyn was three times the national average!

Why? Our 40-year-old lever machines not only break down too often, but they are also unforgiving. If you do not know exactly how to use them, you can lose your vote. In addition, our hyper-technical election law can make voting by absentee or paper ballot a risky proposition.

And that is not all. Many voters must cope with having their names inexplicably missing from the computerized registration roles; with absentee ballots arriving late in the mails; with being unable to get through to the Board's help line--866-VOTE-NYC--on Election Day.

All this is compounded by a civic culture that provides little or no voter education. It is so New York: The burden is totally on citizens to figure out how to use our complicated voting machines or how to get registered. Myths about voting abound, and often serve to disenfranchise New Yorkers.

1. If you've moved, you can't vote unless you've registered. That is the way it was before 1993, when Congress passed the National Voter Registration Act. Now, if you move from one place to another in New York City, you can vote without having to re-register. If you moved within the same election district, you can even vote on the machine! Many voters do not know; the same goes for some poll workers. Now you simply go to the new polling site, which you can find by calling (212) VOTE-NYC. Your name may not be in the poll book, so you will need to insist on your right to vote on a paper "affidavit ballot." If you have questions, ask the poll worker for a voting rights flyer.

2. You need to have identification to vote. You do not have to show any I.D. to vote or proof of citizenship. Some voters mistakenly think they cannot vote unless they received a card from the Board of Elections in the mail. As a voter, all you have to do is sign your name in the poll book. If you are challenged, you sign an oath. Again, no identification is required.

3. You cannot bring anything or anyone into the booth to help. This year presents a record number of candidates from among which to choose. It feels more like a Scholastic Aptitude Test than an election! You may take any information in to the polls with you, including the non-partisan red, white and blue Voter Guide you should receive in the mail shortly before Election Day from the non-partisan Campaign Finance Board. And anyone may come into the booth with you, except your union representative or employer.

4. Everyone knows how to use the voting machine.Some New Yorkers do not know. Others forget to return to race that they skipped. It is not their fault. It is so New York; you are just supposed to know without any training. Our voting machines used to have a device to prevent voters from mistakenly failing to cast their votes. But it was disconnected more than 20 years ago for reasons no one can remember. In Albany, where this sensor still works, there are far fewer lost votes.

For more information on your voting rights, visit the Board of Election's web site.

For some voters, poor elections are like bad weather. They feel they cannot do anything but complain.

But this year is different. The spotlight has been switched on because of Florida. Civic groups have been vigorously organizing and lobbying for more resources for city elections, along with better management at the New York City Board of Elections. The campaign started in the spring when a coalition issued a "Four Point Program for Better Elections."

Already, the effort has paid dividends. This summer, Mayor Rudy Giuliani has taken serious steps to improve the elections, such as raising the pay for poll workers from $130 to $200 for each election. Other steps are in the making, including more voter help lines courtesy of the city's Office of Emergency Management; more foreign language staff; and reducing the time it takes to repair broken voting machines by giving mechanics a police escort on Election Day.

This primary Election Day on September 11th, there is also something that individual voters can do to improve the situation.

They can stop mourning bad elections, and start monitoring them--by joining the most ambitious non-partisan poll watching operation in the United States this year in the wake of the Florida presidential recount. It is being run by the Citywide Coalition for Voter Participation and includes a wide range of civic-minded groups from the New York Immigration Coalition to the Joint Policy Action Committee for Older Adults to Citizens Union.

The Election Day Monitoring Project plans to have thousands of voters survey conditions at hundreds of poll sites on September 11th, with Metro Industrial Area Foundation churches and community-based organizations in the lead pledging to recruit 3,800 volunteers. Volunteers will need to be a citizen, a registered voter and enrolled in a political party to conduct the survey.

And they will need to attend a half-hour briefing session on how to complete the survey, which, when it is finished will give a picture of how well voters are treated on Election Day,, from waiting times to whether machines were working to how well the polling site is managed. This is a chance to explode the most dangerous election myth of all: that voters don't care.
Gene Russianoff is senior attorney and Dave Palmer, government reform advocate for New York Public Interest Research Group.


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Thursday, December 28, 2006

From Lucy To Reba: A Look at Cuban and Hollywood Relations

From Lucy To Reba: A Look at Cuban and Hollywood Relations
December 28, 2006
By Gabe Rodriguez

"To survive in Hollywood, you need the ambition of a Latin-American revolutionary." —Billie Burke

Most everyone knows Desi Arnaz. That is to say, everyone knows he was the star and executive producer of "I Love Lucy." And anyone who has ever watched the show knows that he was Cuban and a talented musician. But something that not many people know is that Arnaz played a vital part in the set up of the show at a time when the television sitcom was still being molded. Arnaz conceptualized the multi-cam setup used for filming the set, a format that would be used on virtually every sitcom from "Happy Days" to "Full House" to "Friends." Now folks, let's pause, take a breath and consider this fact: A Cuban is responsible for how American sitcoms have been filmed for more than 50 years!

We all know that the United States is forever called a "melting pot" of cultures, and so it should follow that its entertainment industry would reflect this. After all, everyone loves to list with pride the accomplishments that their ethnic group has achieved. But while it's wonderful that Cubans have left their mark in the business, what have they had to give up? How does the media in turn choose to depict Hispanics? And how does skin color come into play?

These are complex issues, and in the next few pages, we will do nothing more than scratch a surface. Certainly, many essays have been written on the Cuban experience and the journey of the exile. And the strange politics of the industry are reflected upon and scrutinized every day on the rough pages of Variety. But this piece will attempt to follow the exiles that have landed in the Emerald City of Hollywood, and look at the perils they have encountered on the yellow-brick road from Cuba. In an industry that has changed both drastically and faintly over the years, there is a Spanish side not often mentioned, and that is one of its many success stories: an American dream lived by Latin Americans.

Let us begin by revisiting this heavily documented experience of the Cuban; indeed, so much has been written about the diaspora that the familiar lamentations have grown stale. Edward Said referred to exile as a "discontinued state of being;" it is not merely a matter of living outside of Cuba, but living after Cuba. Cuba is like a womb in the ocean; a distant but nurturing visceral memory. And to the new generation that has "inherited exile," it is not even a memory but a theory, a pre-established religion. The Old Cuba is dead and lost forever. The island may change and the environment may thrive once more, but it can never be exactly the same, just as children can never regress to the womb. So now Cuba has been turned into a martyr and the children have grown up.

Fortunately, the United States has been good to Cubans, and by absorbing so many immigrant groups over the years, we see the heavily used metaphor of the melting pot in motion. The problem is that so many immigrants do not want their cultures to "melt." Mexico has such a different culture from Puerto Rico, and likewise from Cuba; these groups do not want to be meshed together as one single culture that is viewed by others as "Hispanic" or "brown." In fact, that right there is the origin of the problems that have followed: "being Hispanic" is not a culture; it is many cultures, and now it has become a surrogate culture that stands in for all the others. Americans will differentiate between a European and a Hungarian, but not between a Hispanic and a Mexican.

American entertainment has reflected its Spanish-speaking citizens; as stated before, "I Love Lucy" has become a classic program, along with the more contemporary "The George Lopez Show."

International stars like Gael Garcia Bernal have American fan bases, and Univision and Telemundo have become or are part of major corporations. Occasionally, the American industry will fund a film such as "Spanglish" or "Real Women Have Curves," but there is still an image associated with people of Spanish-speaking origin and how they should look. Neither actress Cameron Diaz nor director George A. Romero meet this stereotype, and as a result, that both are half-Cuban is almost never brought up.

Another example is television star JoAnna Garcia. What is interesting about Ms. Garcia is that not only does she resemble the image of the all-American girl, but her roles, such as the teenaged mother or the cheerleader with coprolalia, play off and then satirize this image. Ms. Garcia was willing to speak with me on this issue. When asked about how being Cuban affects her own identity, she responded: "Looking the way I look, having blonde hair and green eyes, has obviously affected the roles I've been offered. I could easily have changed my name altogether, but I just never considered that, because it's my name and who I am."

This alone is a sign of good progress. Hollywood once seemed to only accept "vanilla Americans," but today more flavors are allowed to mix in the batter, resulting in a taste that's not quite the same vanilla. The new show "Ugly Betty" has been a good ideal of this fusion: an American remake of a Colombian show, featuring characters of various skin-colors, and aimed at everyone. The end result has proven a success. But a price has been paid for this success: "Ugly Betty" is no longer derivative specifically of Colombian culture, or Mexican or any other, but of the Surrogate Hispanic culture serving for all.

Now because Spanish-speaking Americans are made up of various cultures that are regarded as a single background, their various races are seen as a single color. Perhaps the heart of the matter is that what the media defines as "white" is periodically changing, sometimes referring to Caucasian, then American, then pure- blood American. What is politically correct is always irritating some person or another. So, if one speaks Spanish, then the color of his skin becomes "Hispanic" or "Latino," apparently a new color. And even these terms are tricky. A person living in France is literally a "Latino."

The problem is this: A significant percentage of Americans view "Hispanic" as a skin-color, an alternate to being "white." And a significant percentage of Hispanic Americans actually agree with this, referring to their own skin-color as 'Hispanic.' But since the majority of Cuban Americans have been Caucasian, thus enabling more opportunities for them here, they are sometimes thought of as "Uncle Toms." Look at the humor on an episode of "George Lopez:" The little Mexican boy believes his father is Santa Claus. Mr. Lopez responds: "Son, let me fill you in on a secret: Santa is a white man. If a Mexican was driving around with a bunch of packages, the cops would be after him in no time." This joke, in addition to making an effective point about American racism, drives home what it is like to be a minority in the U.S., perpetually seen as an outsider, and of color. Cubans may not know what this is like because, if you are Caucasian, many Americans cannot understand that you are Hispanic, even if you are speaking Spanish!

JoAnna Garcia's own IMDb message boards contain a thread where American fans debate: "Is she white or Hispanic?" – apparently unable to reconcile these two. However, rather than become frustrated, Ms. Garcia met the issue of skin color with a good-hearted laugh: "If you think about it, what is really 'white' anymore? No one is pure blood and things have been created from Cuban culture. I really believe in the melting pot of this country." We are truly living in homogenous times. Martin Sheen is half Spanish, yet played the American president! Ang Lee, a Taiwanese filmmaker, first became known to Americans for directing a Jane Austen novel! Alfonso Cuaron, a Mexican filmmaker, has directed a Harry Potter film (and it is often considered the best one)! And the next time you're singing the words to "Flashdance" in this world made of steel, think of how you are singing a song by Irene Cara, who is part Cuban – as well as French and African!

Yet amid all this mixing to create a homogenous whole, for Garcia, Cuba is more than just a womb. "I definitely am proud to be from a Cuban family and have this in my roots. I'm very close to my abuela, and Christmas at my family's house is always in Cuban style." No matter what role one plays during the day, or what identity others project on him or her, Cuba is always at home. Professionally, many may not wish to admit this.

In his essay "A New Latino Face In Hollywood," filmmaker Moctesuma Esparaza writes: "What is unrecognized is that since the film industry was born and nurtured in Hollywood, Latinos have always been the backbone of providing support services. Not particularly the glamour jobs. But Latinos laid the bricks; they poured the concrete for the industry."

Unrecognized, yes, but why? Not because it's some sort of hidden secret. It's there for anyone to discover if they do some research. The truth is that Americans do not feel a reason to recognize this contribution; the Hispanic presence is something skipped over, and there is political baggage behind this. Dominican cinematographer Victor Garcia said: "Fidel Castro didn't just close the door between the United States and Cuba, but between the United States and all of Latin America. Before the revolution there was a greater exchange of interests with these cultures. Now no one is interested. Instead people are asking me if I speak 'Mexican.'"

Ms. Garcia stars on the sitcom "Reba," where she plays a member of a Texan family. Texas, of course, used to be part of Mexico, and is sometimes stereotyped as a symbol of American imperialism and oppression against Hispanics. That a network program would allow a Cuban to play a daughter to a Texan can be seen a positive union for the times; these two groups have linked to play a "family" in the name of entertainment for others. Now I began this paper by discussing how a Cuban is responsible for how sitcoms are filmed, yet we are now at a time when the multi-cam format is on its way out and being replaced by single-cam sitcoms, as seen in shows such as "My Name Is Earl." With this change, we can say that one era of television is ending, and furthermore we can appreciate this era by putting "I Love Lucy" and "Reba" as bookends on each edge.

That Cubans should come to have been involved on both shows is strangely telling. In the vast period between "Lucy" and "Reba," the art of the sitcom can claim a large body of work, chronicling the changes on one of many American landscapes. And at the dawn of a successful medium of the industry, and again at one of its renaissance periods, there was a Latin presence. In fact, it never left.

So, what of the next era? While "My Name Is Earl" is serving as one of the heralds of the new sitcom, ironically this show has been criticized for stereotyping Hispanics. Is this a bad omen for the new age? Perhaps the best way to prepare for an uncertain future is to consider everything that has helped Cubans in the past. Andy Garcia concludes his film "The Lost City" by reciting one of the many verses of Cuban hero Jose Marti. A rough translation:

I grow a white rose
In June as well as in January,
For the sincere friend
Who shakes my hand frankly
And for the cruel person
Who would want to break my heart
I grow, not thistles or thorns,
I grow a white rose

This may have to be the song of the immigrant: accepting all encounters, friend or foe, to make it in one place because the Native Country is always with you at home. And ultimately, if you can make money, Americans will come to love you, even if you have purple skin. Of course leaving one's country will always be a traumatic experience, but for many, coming to the United States is the beginning of the new success story. Ms. Garcia shared this positive view of the possibilities of the American system: "These are all my opinions and not everyone agrees with me, but that's a good thing. It's good for everyone to have an opinion. That's what's great about this country!"

The United States is a mixed bag. It is a difficult place to succeed, and there will always be forms of racism and ignorance, as well as what many would call "a history of imperialism in Latin America." But the sheer number of opportunities and individual forms of freedom that each citizen ultimately has is staggering. Forget the American dream: The values of this country are the human dream. It is absolutely true that despite all the flaws of the United States, Cuban Americans have been one of the most fortunate groups. It is amazing what immigrants and their children have been able to achieve in this system. Yes, they are doctors and attorneys, but perhaps most impressive of all, elected officials of the U.S. And they are certainly no longer strangers to Hollywood.

What is the future? For this new era in entertainment, we grow a white rose.

Source: (c) 2006. All rights reserved.

Monday, December 25, 2006

One Dead in Partial Collapse of 113th Street Building

Columbia Spectator

Home > News

One Dead in Partial Collapse of 113th Street Building
By Sara Vogel
Issue date: 12/26/06 Section: News

A construction worker died and two others were injured when the top floors of a 5-story gutted apartment building on West 113th Street collapsed at 12:30 p.m. on Tuesday.

Firefighters pulled the two survivors from the rubble and brought them to St. Luke's-Roosevelt Hospital, where they were in stable condition Tuesday evening. Burton Joseph, a 33-year-old African immigrant and Brooklyn resident, was dead when the fire department arrived at the building, which is located at 280 West 113th St. between Frederick Douglass Boulevard and Seventh Avenue.

The Neighborhood Partnership Housing Development Fund Company, which owns the building, and the South Harlem Development Corporation were in the process of renovating the building when it collapsed on the workmen.

A wall of the building was loose and in danger of falling, and the scaffolding protecting the sidewalk was "not adequately maintained," according to Department of Buildings' complaint records. Illegal work was being done at the property on the weekends as of Dec. 16, when a complaint was filed with the department.

The building also violated city health codes numerous times, according to Department of Housing Preservation and Development records.

Joseph was supporting a child, said his cousin Nesta Felix, who visited the scene in the evening. Felix said Joseph's mother had been contacted, but she said, "I don't think it's really hit her yet."

The owner of the building and the construction company working on the project could not be reached for comment.Check for updates on this developing story.

West Harlem Resists Columbia University


West Harlem Resists Columbia University
By Ari Paul
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As New York’s Columbia University plans to develop 18 acres of West Harlem for a new campus—a move that could displace thousands of residents—the local community is organizing to defend their homes and their neighborhood’s character. The area is home to African American and Latino communities. The buildings house auto mechanics, storage space, and small businesses. There is a lot of industrial space and the famous Cotton Club still operates on the south side of 125th Street.

When Columbia unveiled its intentions a few years ago, people like Reverend Earl Kooperkamp, of St. Mary’s Episcopal Church on 126th Street and the Coalition to Preserve Community (CPC), hoped that the university would use its resources to clean up some of the neighborhood’s blight. He even thought it might be an opportunity to bring wireless Internet access to the community.
The new campus would be located between 135th and 125th Street, from 12th Avenue to Broadway. The expansion would also affect neighborhoods beyond these borders, roughly 50,000 people, said Kooperkamp.

The West Harlem Local Development Corporation, the Pratt Center for Community Development, and Community Board 9 drafted a plan (197-a) that would protect affordable housing and the jobs already there and give Columbia ample ability to create an extension. Columbia’s 197-c plan, residents claim, ignores all of this. As the website explains, even though Columbia promises job growth, there would be a transfer of jobs from community-owned businesses to low-end service jobs controlled by one employer. This would be in addition to forcing many tenants to leave. LeVerna Fountain, a university spokesperson, responded by saying that Columbia has a more detailed plan after having listened to community concerns.

People like Kooperkamp worry about the use of eminent domain where whole blocks could be condemned. Eminent domain is the ability of the state, upheld by the Supreme Court in Kelo v. City of New London in 2005, to take private property from one owner and give it to another for the purpose of development. While most residents of West Harlem want some sort of collaborative development, said CB 9 Chair Jordi Reyes-Montblanc, “Even the fish in the river oppose eminent domain.”

Local City Councilmember Robert Jackson, as well as the CPC, have organized attempts to negotiate with Columbia for a community benefit agreement, a set of guidelines that would allow Columbia to expand while also contributing to West Harlem’s current residents. Columbia claims it already does a lot of outreach.

According to the school, Columbia owns 65 percent of the area where the proposed campus would be located. At 3251 Broadway (at 131st Street), the auto mechanics are dealing with what their lawyer, Phillip Van Buren, has called “an unending wave of inspections from municipal agencies and five police raids on trumped up charges.” This, he said, is an attempt by Columbia to get them to move out. Some residents said that people have come on Columbia’s behalf to the auto maintenance shops and have threatened to cut off utilities to get the occupants to leave, though such claims are difficult to verify. Mechanics at another shop on 125th Street said if they spoke out against Columbia they could get evicted.

Those who would have to leave their homes would rely on Section 8 to get new housing in a city where rents continue to rise. At an October public meeting on the expansion, a group of residents enumerated other concerns about expansion: noise pollution, high buildings blocking sunlight, rising rents north of the area in Washington Heights, more homelessness, and rising costs of commercial goods. Since Columbia wants to move biology labs into the new campus, residents also fear adverse environmental affects.

Groups like CPC and We Act for Environmental Justice haven’t ruled out more protests to highlight their cause. Some residents feel that organizing and pooling resources will allow them better access to lawyers and local politicians.

A group of Columbia students, called the Student Coalition on Expansion and Gentrification (SCEG), has hosted speakers to educate students about the plan in order to gain support for the West Harlem residents. In 2005 SCEG had a tent city on the main campus and last spring it organized a demonstration near the campus. It has also hosted dinners where students and residents meet and discuss the issue in an informal setting. This year SCEG plans to have a gallery on campus to display the history and culture of West Harlem.

The main problem, said Bryan Mercer, an anthropology undergrad and activist with SCEG, is that the university treats the proposal as all or nothing, so the discourse on campus has become one of “develop or don’t develop.” SCEG wants to promote alternatives and compromises.

Reyes-Montblanc fears that if the two sides can’t come to a compromise, “things will get ugly.”
The only way Kooperkamp sees the community and Columbia bargaining in good faith is if Columbia takes away the threat of eminent domain. He is continuing to organize with the coalition of residents, but hasn’t ruled out the possibility of lying in front of bulldozers in a few years.

Kooperkamp hasn’t given up hope for West Harlem, despite a lack of money and influence, two things Columbia has plenty of. He references 1 Samuel 17:49, the biblical moment when David defeats Goliath. “I’ve seen it done,” he said. “But David had a stone. We need a damn stone.”

Ari Paul is a freelance writer. His articles have appeared in Z, American Prospect, and In These Times.

Friday, December 22, 2006

WBGO 88.3 FM - Columbia Expansion Battle

HDFCCentral Forum

From: Reysmont 9:15 pm
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WBGO Journal December 22, 2006
WBGO's award-winning half-hour news magazine, Fridays at 7:30PM. Hard-hitting, informative, fun.

This week on the WBGO Journal:(Friday, December 22, 2006)

COLUMBIA EXPANSION BATTLE Allan Wolper sits down with a leading community advocate and an official with Columbia University to hash out the differences over the school’s planned expansion.

Grey Wolf-6

CB9 Reelects Six Officers, Stalemate on Treasurer

Columbia Spectator
Home > News

CB9M Reelects Six Officers, Stalemate on Treasurer
By Erin Durkin
Issue date: 12/22/06 Section: News

Community Board 9 re-elected six of its seven officers Thursday night, failing after four votes to reach a majority for the office of treasurer, which will be filled in January.

Incumbent treasurer Barbara Marshall and challenger Michael Palma each received 15 votes in the initial round of balloting. After a second vote returned another tie, the floor was opened up for new nominations to the office of treasurer, but all of the nominated individuals declined to run. Two more rounds of voting failed to return a majority for either candidate. The meeting lost a quorum as many members exited before a fifth vote could take place.

The treasurer's race will be decided at CB9's next General Board meeting in January.

Jordi Reyes-Montblanc, who ran unopposed, was re-elected as chair of the board. Also unopposed were First Vice Chair Carolyn Thompson, Assistant Secretary Ramona Jennett, and Assistant Treasurer Yvonne Stennett. Secretary Ted Kovaleff defeated Martha Norrick, BC '07, by a margin of 26 to 13. Second Vice Chair Pat Jones won re-election with 26 votes, defeating Theo Chino, with nine votes, and Dr. Vicky Gholson, with two votes.

Three City College students spoke about the controversy over the naming of a student community center on CCNY's campus after radical activists Guillermo Morales and Assata Shakur. Student Lydia Shestopalova said that at a forum held to discuss the issue, intended for students and neighborhood residents, "Security measures were stepped up to such an extent that�many people were turned away because they lacked proper City College ID. Not only that, but they were verbally harassed and physically intimidated."

"City College is a reprehensible administrative entity," Reyes-Montblanc said, "You telling us this is only one more example of abuse that City College perpetrates."

The Board also passed several resolutions dealing with Columbia's proposed Manhattanville expansion. One resolution called on the Department of City Planning to ensure that all 197-c applications pending to rezone the Manhattanville area are considered simultaneously. In addition to Columbia's effort to rezone the area, two applications have been filed by local business owners who have refused to sell to the University.

Another resolution asked City Planning to ensure that the 197-a plan, the board's framework for development in West Harlem, be fully considered as an alternative in the Environmental Impact Statement for Columbia's plan, and that the EIS evaluate the impact of potential use of eminent domain to acquire property in the area.

The Board also passed resolutions opposing the temporary location of the Columbia Secondary School for Math, Science, and Engineering at P.S. 36, an early childhood school on Morningside Drive, and called on Columbia to stop what the resolution described as the purposeful neglect of its properties in Manhattanville, citing broken windows and piles of trash.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Boston Plans to Go ‘Green’ on Large Building Projects

"Lunke, Thomas" wrote:
Subject: A "Green"er City
Date: Wed, 20 Dec 2006 14:06:27 -0500
From: "Lunke, Thomas"

Hi Folks,

I thought you might like to see this article. The entire city of Boston is doing what CB9 wants to do.


The New York Times

Boston Plans to Go ‘Green’ on Large Building Projects
Published: December 20, 2006

BOSTON, Dec. 19 — Boston plans to amend its building code to require that all large-scale private construction be “green.”

Under the new regulations, all private construction of at least 50,000 square feet must meet the minimum criteria of the United States Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design standards for new projects.

While other governments have adopted the association’s standards for private construction, Boston is believed to be the first city to revise its building code to adhere to them, said Taryn Holowka, an association spokeswoman.

The Washington City Council passed a bill earlier this month requiring private developers to follow the standards, which Mayor Anthony A. Williams is expected to sign next week.
The City of Pasadena, Calif., has required much of its private construction to meet the standards since April. The State of New Mexico requires new buildings over 15,000 square feet to comply with the standards, while 18 states and 12 federal agencies use them for new public buildings.

The change in Boston’s building code means that each project must meet at least 26 of 69 criteria the Green Building Council established. Developers can choose from the 69 items, which include construction with recycled content, water-efficient landscaping systems and proximity to public transportation. The city is adding four other criteria, including one that would pertain to a project involving historic preservation.

“Boston is growing, and this amendment helps us grow our sustainable green buildings, which are good for public health and air quality,” said Mayor Thomas M. Menino, who started the initiative two years ago. “We’re doing what we should be doing, moving toward better environmental quality. We’re thinking about the future.”

The regulations, expected to be approved by the Boston Redevelopment Authority on Thursday, will take effect upon being publicly posted next week. The Zoning Commission is expected to approve the regulations Jan. 10.

James W. Hunt III, Mr. Menino’s top environmental aide, said in a public hearing Tuesday that a commission would review all new construction projects to ensure they met the standards, which would shift and change over time.

“Our commitment is to grow this city in a sustainable way that enhances the quality of life and helps save on the bottom line,” Mr. Hunt said.

While environmentally friendly construction helps save money in the long run by reducing electricity and energy use, it is typically about 2 to 5 percent more expensive up front. But Mr. Menino said he encountered little resistance from developers and architects, many of whom are embracing the new standards.

“The long-term costs of not doing this are catastrophic,” said Hubert Murray, president of the Boston Society of Architects. “We don’t really have a choice. Yes, it’s a greater first cost, but with that investment we hope to defer the far greater cost of neglect.”

Thomas Lunke
Director of Planning
Harlem Community Development Corporation
163 West 125th Street, 17th Floor
New York, NY 10027
Tel: (212) 961-4140
Fax: (212) 961-4143

Monday, December 18, 2006

Bloomberg Plans New Office to Help New York’s Poor

The New York Times
N.Y. / Region

Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg announced proposals to fight poverty Monday at a Lower East Side credit union. He was joined by Representative Charles B. Rangel, left, Geoffrey Canada, and Veronica M. White.

Published: December 19, 2006

The city is planning to spend an extra $150 million a year in public and private money on the core priority of Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s second term: combating poverty that is hidden beneath New York’s vast wealth.

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The effort would involve the creation of a new city office that would operate in part like a philanthropic foundation and in part like a venture capital company. The program, called the Center for Economic Opportunity, would administer a $100 million fund to support
experimental programs, like giving cash rewards to encourage poor people to stay in school or receive preventive medical care, or matching their monthly bank deposits to foster greater savings.

The office would also oversee a program giving tax credits to impoverished families to offset child care costs. Programs are to be constantly evaluated, and those that cannot show success will be terminated. The administration has hired Veronica M. White, a business planning and management consultant who has worked in housing development.

The effort is classic Bloomberg in that it emphasizes nontraditional solutions and enlists the private sector to tackle problems that have historically vexed governments. Mr. Bloomberg has turned to fellow philanthropists to help improve the schools, to finance a Republican national convention in New York and now to build a ground zero memorial. But yesterday’s announcement represents the fruit of his efforts to fight poverty in his second and last term as mayor.

“When you do things with public money, you really are required to do things that have some proven track record and to focus on more conventional approaches,” Mr. Bloomberg said in making the announcement at a credit union on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. “But conventional approaches, as we know, have kept us in this vicious cycle of too many people not being able to work themselves out of poverty even though they’re doing everything that we’ve asked them to do.”

The administration’s efforts would place an emphasis on rewarding good behavior and promoting self-sufficiency. Officials plan to spend $42 million annually on the tax credit, $25 million to reward actions like attending schools or prenatal education classes, and $11 million to help poor adults save money and learn sound financial practices.

The new plan calls for the office to spend $5 million a year on measuring progress, and $71 million on about 30 programs that administration officials say they are developing but declined to announce.

In an approach that has become a hallmark of the Bloomberg administration, the new office is intended to work across all agencies. But the center could also serve as a way of continuing Mr. Bloomberg’s agenda after his term ends.

This year, he charged a high-profile panel drawn from business, nonprofit and philanthropic circles with devising solutions to fighting poverty that did not cost additional money. But after the panel released its recommendations in September, officials in the administration were able to make the case that creating the new office would help build both the internal institutions and external demand that would allow it to survive a new administration.

The child care tax credit proposal, which needs state approval, is working its way through the legislative process, said Linda I. Gibbs, the deputy mayor overseeing the antipoverty effort. And officials have begun raising money to pay for the incentive program, an approach called conditional cash transfers that have had success in other countries.

The effort to teach the poor about financial management would operate out of the Department of Consumer Affairs and be called the Office of Financial Empowerment. Jonathan Mintz, the consumer affairs commissioner, said that he was looking to help coordinate and promote a program of individual development accounts that would use public and private money to match accumulated savings.

Policy experts called the Bloomberg plan significant and unusual. “The amount of money allocated is not trivial, especially if the money is used to leverage other expenditures, say by private businesses or nonprofits,” said Harry J. Holzer, a public policy professor at Georgetown University. “The whole idea of a broad fund to fund innovation seems pretty novel, especially at the city level.”

Antipoverty advocates offered measured praise for the announcement, saying that while they were pleased that the city was making a financial commitment, more work remained to be done.
“It is good that the mayor is making a financial commitment to fighting poverty, but we are concerned that this process is not transparent,” said Gloria Walker, a member of Community Voices Heard, an antipoverty group that advised the panel. “Low-income people need to be involved in monitoring and overseeing these new programs.”

Joel Berg, executive director of the New York City Coalition Against Hunger, said that although he was “extraordinarily pleased” that the $150 million would go to test innovative approaches, particularly the individual development accounts, he warned that it was not nearly enough.
“It equals only about $125 per person for the approximately 1.8 million New Yorkers living below the meager federal poverty line,” he said.


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business people are trying to
harness marketplace forces to
do good works.
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Eminent Danger

The New York Sun
Recent Editions - Tue. Wed. Thu. Fri. Mon.
December 18, 2006 edition

Eminent Danger
New York Sun Editorial
December 18, 2006

How's this for irony as the Public Authorities Control Board considers the matter of Atlantic Yards in Brooklyn? It seems that hopes for defending property rights in New York are resting not with our Republican mayor or governor, but with the speaker of the Assembly, Democrat Sheldon Silver. We are under no illusions that a vote by Mr. Silver this week against Atlantic Yards would represent principled opposition to the idea of private property being seized by the government to be handed over to another private owner for economic development purposes. It would likely just be an example of Mr. Silver's legendary negotiating acumen — he takes a deal to the wire and extracts every possible concession, even if he favors the project in question. But the unusual situation only underscores the perils of the way this project has evolved.

We start out from a position of favoring private-sector building and investment in New York City. We have no objection to the density of the $4.2 billion plan by developer Forest City Ratner to build a Nets basketball arena and housing designed by Frank Gehry near the Atlantic Avenue subway stop in Brooklyn. Initial indications were that the project would be primarily privately funded and that, because most of the land for the project was either owned by the Long Island Rail Road or had been privately acquired, the use of the government's power to condemn property through eminent domain would not be needed. It is good news that Forest City Ratner is interested in investing this much money in Brooklyn.

The project, however, has evolved considerably since it was first announced. First, as Mayor Bloomberg kissed Bertha Lewis, the New York executive director of the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, developer Bruce Ratner agreed to devote half of the rental units on the site — 2,250 of 4,500 apartments — to "affordable" housing. That opened the door for Forest City Ratner to seek subsidies for those units in the form of tax-exempt financing. The project started to look less like free-market investment and more like a classic market-distorting income-redistribution scheme in which the hardworking taxpayers of New York pay the price for those few lucky enough to score an "affordable" apartment.

Now comes the news that Mr. Pataki's Empire State Development Corporation is moving to evict what the New York Post reports are 60 households and 13 businesses using eminent domain power. With the notable exception of the Brooklyn Papers, a chain of weeklies in Kings County, the press has been cheering on this trampling of property rights. The Daily News ran an editorial in support of the project, and a New York Post editorial this past week sneered at the project's opponents as "misguided, ivory-tower, eminent-domain purists." As for the New York Times, Forest City Ratner is the New York Times Company's partner in building the paper's luxurious new "affordable" headquarters near the Port Authority bus terminal in Manhattan, which itself involved the use of eminent domain condemnation.

We've sat through the Bloomberg administration's presentation on the importance of eminent domain as an urban development tool, and we don't mind saying we were unmoved. The administration itself trumpets as an eminent domain success story Forest City Ratner's own Metrotech center in downtown Brooklyn. That development is lifeless after 6 p.m. and integrates poorly with the surrounding neighborhoods. Everything that Mayor Bloomberg did not like about the World Trade Center is on display at Metrotech. The strongest argument made by proponents of using eminent domain for private projects is that if the practice is barred, the illogical result is that it would be legal to seize homes for a new jail or a new public housing project, but not for projects that might be better for a neighborhood, such as restaurants, hotels, or luxury condominiums.

The problem is that the concern about property rights is bedrock. It's Locke. It is one of the ideas upon which this nation was founded. It is also essential. Who would plunk down $1 million or more for one of Mr. Ratner's condos knowing that some powerful developer allied with the government could come along and roust him for some better project? It isn't only Atlantic Yards and the Times headquarters. Justice Thomas warned, in his dissent from the Supreme Court's decision in Kelo v. New London, of the "far-reaching, and dangerous, result" of the court's majority opinion.

Mr. Bloomberg's master plan for New York in 2030 speaks of creating many new parks, and one of Speaker Silver's priorities has long been a Second Avenue subway. Count on more property seizures for what, in those instances at least, would likely be public uses. Columbia University may see Forest City Ratner's maneuvers and decide to use eminent domain rather than paying a market-clearing price to property owners in Manhattanville, where it wants to build an expanded campus for the sciences.

If Mr. Silver does block Mr. Pataki from midnight condemnations at Atlantic Yards, the decisions would be left to the new governor, Eliot Spitzer. His appointees to head the MTA and the Empire State Development Corporation, Elliot "Lee" Sander and Avi Schick, have excellent reputations. In taking on Wall Street, Mr. Spitzer often made the claim that, rather than being hostile to capitalism, he was defending the property rights of the small investor. What an irony it would be if Mr. Spitzer, the bane of Wall Street, turns out to be a more trustworthy defender of property rights than either Mr. Bloomberg or Mr. Pataki.

Manhattanville residents and business owners worry about Columbia plan

The Columbia Journalist
December 18th 2006



Manhattanville residents and business owners worry about Columbia plan
by Betty Yu

Columbia University announced its plan to build a new campus in the Manhattanville area of West Harlem. The university has already bought out properties in the area, which is currently zoned for manufacturing. It may resort to legal efforts to obtain holdouts. And that has residents and long-time business owners worried about being pushed out.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Ways & Means

Date: Fri, 15 Dec 2006 18:07:22 -0800 (PST)
From: "Johnny Cecilio Rivera"
Subject: Profile of Congressman Rangel
To: "Jordi Reyes-Montblanc"

I thought you may enjoy this profile of Congressman Rangel which appeared in the Washington Post's Style Section.

Ways & Means
After 35 Years in the House, Charlie Rangel Has the Power. But There Are Still Taxing Times Ahead for the Man From Harlem.

By Wil Haygood
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, December 14, 2006; C01

Back then, on the streets of Harlem, he'd take a full swing at his foes. He was a high school dropout, a dead-end kid until he picked himself up and put on that military uniform. In the Korean War he fought like hell, brought back a couple of medals, too.

After he came home, he set himself on a course straight as a ruler: college, law school, assistant U.S. attorney, politics.

Charlie Rangel is 76 now and the dean of New York's congressional delegation. It's been more than 50 years since those days as a street fighter, but this fall's campaigns brought them back in a hurry.

"The American people don't trust Charlie Rangel and his tax-happy Democrat friends because they know Democrats will work overtime to raise their taxes," is how Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio) put it.

President Bush told a Florida crowd that Rangel had said "he couldn't think of one of our tax cuts he would extend."

While the leaves were falling, and the air growing crisp, Nancy Pelosi and Charlie Rangel were being portrayed as a kind of boogeyman and boogeywoman tag team.

Then Vice President Cheney chimed in.

"Charlie doesn't understand how the economy works," Cheney told Fox News Channel a week before the election.

That sent the Harlem in Charlie Rangel into the stratosphere. He wanted to punch someone. He told a reporter for the New York Post that Cheney was "a real son of a bitch."

"I actually worried about him," says Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), referring to Rangel being under siege and his exhaustive campaigning.

Rangel would go home to his wife, Alma, and sigh: Lord have mercy.

"I just didn't know which direction the country was going," Rangel says of his feelings.
The funerals he attended in Harlem for troops killed in Iraq pained him. He pondered leaving the House if the Democrats didn't win.

But they did win. And victory has spoils. When the sun rose the day after Election Day, Charlie Rangel -- the boogeyman -- was the presumptive chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee.

"In the highest chambers of the U.S. government," Rangel beams, "they cannot exclude me. Got damn!"

"He'll be dealing with issues that affect every single American," says Cummings. "Social Security, Medicare, trade with foreign countries. And taxes."

So Charles Bernard Rangel is, among other things, the tax man.

And now, the tax man cometh.

Going Up

This is a town where power is a magical elixir, the potion that erases age. The old are not old and the young are not young. They are -- given the right turn of events, the good fortune to be named chairman of this or that committee -- just powerful.

And yet so numerous are the faces of black legislators on Capitol Hill that it might not be immediately obvious: When Rangel assumes chairmanship of Ways and Means in January, he will be the most powerful black legislator ever.

"We had Bill Gray, first black chair of the House Budget Committee," says Cummings. "But Ways and Means is far above that. Charlie's being elevated adds another dimension to the happiness of the Congressional Black Caucus -- and the Democratic Party. But it's not a black thing with Charlie. It's a red, white and blue thing."

Since election night, the congratulatory messages have been plentiful.

"People say to me: 'You've waited long enough!' As if this job was just about waiting on the chair. It wasn't."

He goes on, explaining why he stayed: "It was the frustration built up over this immoral war, the tax deals geared toward the rich, Hurricane Katrina. I had that nightmare that somebody -- God -- would ask me: 'Well, Rangel, what did you do about it?' And at 76 all I would be able to say was 'I left'?"

The Road Ahead

Rangel has just come from yet another meeting. Walking into his office in the Rayburn Building, he finds messages stacked up like a deck of cards. CEOs are vying to get on his appointment schedule. Annie Minguez, an office assistant, riffles through the messages with the chairman-to-be.

"I wanna call everybody back," he instructs.

His voice is deep and raspy, his hair gray and black, wavy and elegant.

The office is decorated with African art. There's a picture of a bronze-colored soldier in the Korean War -- thin mustache, soft smile, Harlem cool: Charlie Rangel.

There's another picture of him with three friends from the 1970s -- Percy Sutton, Basil Patterson and David Dinkins, all Manhattan power brokers at one time or another -- strolling down a Harlem street on thin legs. It's a black-and-white photo and they look like a jazz quartet on their way to a gig.

The new gig isn't going to be easy. All these newly elected Democrats, the men and women who brought Rangel his chairmanship, don't necessarily agree with him.

Rangel realizes it will be up to him, Steny Hoyer, the next majority leader, and Pelosi, the next speaker, to keep the Democratic troops together. "They're not from the San Francisco City Hall of Democrats," Rangel acknowledges. "These are moderate, and maybe conservative, Democrats."

In the old days the chairmen of House committees were referred to as "barons." The power was just that epic. Which remains part of Rangel's joy -- and potential pain -- as he prepares for his new powers.

"One of my biggest jobs," he says, "is to convince Democrats that it's not in our best interests to get even if we want to get something done." He adds: "I'm convinced the Republican losses wasn't because of this country's love of Democrats. It was the frustration with the war, with Katrina, with corruption. Now, we got a two-year window."

Social Security and Medicare are but two of the issues that will be on the agenda. "If we drive a program that improves the condition for America, I refuse to believe that is 'liberal.' Poverty and a lack of education is a threat to our national security."

There will be no time for revenge. But he hasn't forgotten.

"I wanna make certain you know how mean they were!"

He's talking about Rep. Bill Thomas (R-Calif.), the outgoing chair of Ways and Means. "The whole idea of legislating, of having the right to fight, was taken away," he says. "Tom DeLay and Bill Thomas were completely excluding Democrats from legislating. I'd have these photo ops -- which was the only time I'd get invited over to hear Thomas."
He can't quite stop himself now. His Harlem is up.

"They sent messages to their own senior members that they would not become chairman unless they were in lock step with their right-wing agenda. Many of my GOP friends didn't receive chairmanships because they were not in lock step with the right wing. Even tax bills that we Democrats supported, the GOP would put a poison pill in there and say, 'Go out and say the Democrats voted no.' "

He's hunched over his desk.

The power of a baron -- and yet, with a Republican in the White House, he's got to wield it like a ballet dancer.

"Fortunately, my age and seniority wouldn't allow me to wait till 2008 before I can become a real legislator. Everything we do, people are watching and looking toward 2008. That's why I hope we can be productive. That's the carrot I've been giving the administration."

He goes on: "Before the vice president took me on, most people didn't know who the hell Charlie Rangel was."

Which is not quite accurate.

Man of the House

Harlem, that historic neighborhood on Manhattan island, has given the world so many figures who became symbols: Father Divine and Adam Clayton Powell Jr., James Baldwin and James Weldon Johnson, Alice Dunbar-Nelson and Countee Cullen.

It's both a community and a state of mind. But just as Los Angeles is no longer the city of "Chinatown," Harlem isn't the Harlem of the Cotton Club. Huge swaths have been gentrified and there are occasional protests by the poor about being moved aside. The Liberation Bookstore, where activists and African exiles used to hang out, is gone. But the famed Apollo Theater is still there. Sylvia's soul food restaurant hangs on. Scholars still troop to the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture.

Charlie Rangel first received national attention when he took on the legendary Powell in 1970 and defeated him in the Democratic primary. Rangel had been appointed an assistant U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York in 1961. Later he was elected to the New York State Assembly. Powell was a bulwark on behalf of President Johnson's War on Poverty legislation in the 1960s but had been expelled from Congress in 1967 for ethics violations, a cataclysmic downfall for the political lion. (The Supreme Court overturned the House action.)

In 35 years in the House, Rangel has become a Harlem institution himself. He helped change the tax laws to punish U.S. companies that continued to do business with the South African apartheid regime. "Africans have a tremendous respect for him as a person," says Julius Coles, president of Africare, an aid organization. "The man has been in the forefront of the battle for African rights."

Rangel also worked with Republican lawmaker Jack Kemp to create federal "empowerment zones." The legislation provided tax incentives and federal business development opportunities to distressed inner-city areas.

"Like Adam, Charlie is a son of the community," says H. Patrick Swygert, president of Howard University and Rangel's first administrative assistant on Capitol Hill. "He didn't parachute in. There's no one in central Harlem who can challenge Charles's street bona fides. In Harlem, Charles has got, as the kids say, 'street cred.' "

His liberal record -- the ACLU gives him a 92 percent lifetime rating -- does worry many conservatives.

"I don't like Charlie Rangel's view of the world," says Daniel Mitchell, a tax economist and senior fellow at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank. "His economic outlook could lead to a French-style welfare state. We'd end up with high unemployment, less competitiveness and slower economic growth. The kind of stagnation like we see in Europe."

But Kemp says that Republicans shouldn't dread the coming of Rangel. "Look, Charlie wants for this country what Republicans want: reduced tax burden, reform of the alternative minimum tax and a cleaning up of the cumbersome tax code of America. I don't think Republicans should fear Charlie Rangel. But you do have to be prepared for the Charlie Rangel one-two punch."

Not long after the election, Rangel started rumbling again about wanting a military draft, believing too many poor kids go overseas to fight. Few believe a draft will become a reality. "But Charlie made everyone aware, for at least a moment, of the inequities of service," says former West Virginia congressman Bob Wise, who has known Rangel for two decades. "It was consummate Charlie: He's forced everyone to look at it."

Not long after the election -- call it the tail end of the one-two punch -- Rangel told the New York Times: "Mississippi gets more than their fair share back in federal money, but who the hell wants to live in Mississippi?"

It led to a firestorm of newspaper headlines and jokey radio musings.

"I was trying to explain why the federal government gives more to a different state," Rangel says. "You have more poor folks in Mississippi than in New York. But I put my foot in my mouth. That was dumb. Everybody likes to live in their home town. I'm going to visit Mississippi. The love is in the making up, as someone once said."

Making the Rounds

It wasn't exactly a victory lap, but there were trips to make after the election. A lot of folks touched him in the airports, stepped in front of him as he emerged from office buildings. They just wanted to talk a minute. Some just nodded. Old black men. Bellhops.

" Got damn!" he says, remembering all those faces. "I feel so good. Just so good."
The poor kid from Harlem -- who became the gentleman from Harlem -- cometh.
He says he doesn't forget where he came from.

"I was in South Carolina in the days before we won," Rangel says. "This elderly guy introduced me to his grandson. The grandfather said to his grandson, 'If the Democrats win, this man gonna be head of the Ways and Means Committee.' The grandson said, 'What is Ways and Means?' And the old man said, 'I don't really know. All I know is, it's awesome!' "

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Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Chilling Towers Exposed

the Campus

Home > Feature

Chilling Towers Exposed
Ayelet Haran
Issue date: 12/11/06 Section: Feature

Media Credit: Peter Lemons

A Horror TripIt started as a friendly visit to the "Towers" that one of my classmates had been raving about since the beginning of the semester. It turned into a horror movie as the true face of the towers revealed itself in all its glory. Dear students, I'm glad to introduce the residential nightmare disguised as the "safe and affordable" dormitories known as the "Towers."

Many CCNY students were skeptical about the completion of the towers happening before the beginning of the fall semester. A quick outdoor glance doesn't reveal any problems. In fact, strolling through the 9th floor suite the dorms look promising. New beds, mattresses, and cherry oak furniture, which might not be my taste but it works. In the living room, I discovered a hole in the panel near the window. The story is that maintenance arrived to fix an invisible leak in the ceiling and ended up making a hole in the floor. That was over two weeks ago.

The bathrooms are simple but nice. The kitchen is equipped with an electric stovetop and a microwave; and if you are planning some major cooking there are two large ovens and additional refrigeration storage on the first floor. The main floor also serves as a lounge area with comfortable chairs and a flat screen television, usually tuned to sports channels. There is a spacious laundry room, a cozy gym, and a study room that can be reserved for private parties. Seeming like a pretty sweet deal, its 10 minutes from campus with a security guard at the entrance and utilities included. However, a visit to a second floor neighbor unmasked the pretty exterior of the towers.

Interviews with five residents revealed several very frightening stories. There have been over five muggings in the vicinity of the dorms in recent weeks; some at gunpoint. Ever since the path through the south campus closed for construction, every trip to the corner store is filled with terror. The residents are afraid to leave their apartments over the weekend preferrring not to risk it. In one case, a student got mugged and beaten while the security guard sat in his booth watching. The guard replied later that he couldn't have done anything because the robber was armed with a knife. Out of the students I spoke to half are expected to leave before next semester. They hope to get their security deposit back, but they value their safety at a higher price. In fact, I was explicitly asked not to include any of their names in this article--not even first names--for the management knows them. They were afraid that they would have trouble getting their deposits back were their identities to be revealed. Talk about a "big-brother" program!

Life in the towers is filled with many additional complications. The laundry room wasn't in operation for the first three weeks of September, and the construction continues to disrupt the students' lives. Each room has its own radiator/air conditioner, but many thermostats weren't working properly for weeks; leaving the residents either freezing cold or suffocating from the heat.

And yes, the Towers do have the makings of a normal dormitory situation: Young students yelling in the halls and littering the elevators, signs advertising movie nights and an 80s party, girls in bathrobes smoking outside...

The outdoor smokefest provided more ill words about the dormitories. Most of the stories were along the same lines and all filled with great disappointment. A substantial portion of the rooms are owned by Educational Housing Services, an organization that to students from all schools in the city. With no connection to the school, they don't see the need to live in the Harlem residence that puts additional stress on their lives. They try to make a home in the new building, but cannot tolerate living at such a high personal and financial cost.

To be sure, I did meet someone whose tale was slightly less grim. "There is nothing to complain about here if you've lived anywhere else in New York" says Lindsey, an advocate for the towers whose housing was paid for by her student loans while she takes on a full-time school load. The dorms give her the freedom to participate in extracurricular activities and still maintain a high GPA, without battling cockroaches and mice as she did in her previous apartments. So to her, The Towers was really the lesser of many evils. But is there really nothing to complain about? Perhaps the neighborhood's criminal seed raised its eyebrow at the sight of students residing among them. Perhaps it's "this time of year." Or perhaps the security and the police department need to open their eyes to the dangers the students face and provide better lighting for the paths and security in the halls.

Right before I departed the building, I noticed the unpainted concrete on both inside and outside the building. It can hardly pass as a decorative decision. The rumor whispered between the residents is that the owners ran out of money. Typical: take it out on the poor students paying roughly $1000 a month for housing. My walk back to the train station wasn't as pleasant as the one I took just an hour earlier. If beforehand I could almost forget I was in Harlem, the stroll back to campus turned into a stressful trip with my phone in my hand, ready to call 911.

Don't you feel safe now?

Note: This article is the personal account of the writer and reflects only the stories of those she interviewed, which may or may not be representative. A more extensive news story is underway.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Auto Shops Expect Displacement Manhattanville Tenants Fight For Fair Rent Negotiations, Await Relocation Details

Home > News

Auto Shops Expect Displacement
Manhattanville Tenants Fight For Fair Rent Negotiations,
Await Relocation Details
By Anna Phillips
Issue date: 12/11/06 Section: News

Media Credit: Daniella Zalcman
Manhattanville auto shop owners are cautiously
approaching Columbia's offers of relocation.
Both sides in the dispute now have lawyers to handle
the issue.

For several of the owners of auto repair shops at 3251 Broadway, negotiations with Columbia about relocation and payment of rent have begun in earnest.

As of last spring, Columbia, which bought the building in February for about $4.9 million, had notified the tenants-five auto repair shops-that due to safety concerns over the building's freight elevator, the University wanted to relocate them.

Although no specific locations were designated at the time, the University said that the relocation sites would be within Columbia's proposed expansion zone in West Harlem, meaning that the businesses would likely undergo a second move if Columbia were able to build its Manhattanville campus. This incited protest from the tenants and community groups opposed to the expansion.

In February, the repair shop on the building's third floor closed. The tenants' attorney, Philip van Buren, said the owners left after Columbia gave notice that it was going to shut down the elevator.

The other four businesses remain, but their leases have expired and they have yet to sign new ones. In the interim, they are operating on a month-to-month holdover, meaning that the terms of the expired leases are extended each month provided that the tenants pay rent and Columbia does not evict them.

According to van Buren, for about 6,000 square feet of space, each tenant is paying roughly $2,400 a month-below market rate, according to University Senior Executive Vice President Robert Kasdin. Currently, two of the four tenants are withholding rent to "defray their costs of moving if they have to move out," though van Buren would not specify which ones.

And they likely will have to move. Although the University has repeatedly postponed the date by which the tenants have to relocate, Carol Shuchman, Columbia's director of institutional real estate, and van Buren have been exchanging letters and holding meetings for months to negotiate leases. Shuchman declined to comment for this article.

According to van Buren, negotiations up until this point have been unacceptable to the tenants. In early fall, the University offered a one-year lease with a provision stating that if Columbia desired, it could terminate that lease with 60 days' notice. It also offered to pay $8,384.64-three months of rent-to the three businesses that have been offered new locations provided that they cover moving expenses.

"It was financial suicide," van Buren said. "These are completely raw spaces, there's no lighting."

Jose Luis Jimenez, the owner of Los Compadres Auto Repair on the building's second floor, agreed. "The space is good but the lease is bad, that's why we haven't signed," he said, adding that he would be satisfied with a three- to five-year offer.

"You're going to have one year and then, pfft... you're out," said Roland Sally, the main mechanic at 3251 Broadway Auto Center on the first floor.

Columbia has since hired David Zinberg, an attorney from the firm Ingram Yuzek Gainen Carroll and Bertolotti, LLP, to handle its negotiations with the tenants.

Zinberg's most recent lease offer has been to the owners of Los Compadres. It is a one-year lease for a new location at 630 W. 131st St. Within this year, Los Compadres can terminate its lease with 60 days' notice if business is not going well and not pay the full year's rent. The new lease also includes an offer of $25,000 should the business have to relocate for a second time.

The new offer "begins to address the issue of the very unpredictable future that these guys are otherwise looking at," van Buren said. Still, he has his complaints.

According to a recent letter from Zinberg regarding Los Compadres, the New York City Commissioner of Buildings requested on Jan. 26 that Columbia erect a "sidewalk shed" to correct building violations. Jimenez and Sally believe that this scaffolding is obstructing potential customers' view of the businesses' signs and is responsible for how poor business has been this year. In the letter, Zinberg wrote, "the University is not responsible for the claimed loss of business" and offered to have the tenants pay their arrears in 12-month installments over the lease term, but van Buren is hoping to negotiate for a 50 percent reduction in rent arrears.

How further negotiations will result is uncertain, but Columbia is getting antsy. In his letter regarding Los Compadres, Zinberg wrote that the University "will not be willing to hold these premises available indefinitely." While the first move appears inevitable, the possibility of a second relocation is complicated by whether the auto repair shops are compatible with Columbia's vision of the proposed campus.

"If there are tenants in good standing who can continue to exist in Columbia facilities, our preference will be to relocate them within the project area," Kasdin said in a September meeting with Spectator. He added that the first and second floors of buildings along Broadway, 12th Avenue, and 125th Street would have retail outlets.

"There are some businesses that are fundamentally incompatible and those we would try to relocate outside the project area," he said adding that "there are problems with that building which preexist our ownership. We want those businesses that can continue to thrive to continue to thrive, and we're not raising their rents as we find better space."

Friday, December 08, 2006

Bollinger's Balancing Act President Approaches Public Criticism As A Scholar And Executive

Columbia Spectator
Home > News

Bollinger's Balancing Act
President Approaches Public Criticism As A Scholar And Executive
By Josh Hirschland and Kate Linthicum
Issue date: 12/8/06 Section: News

Two days after a speech by Minuteman Project founder Jim Gilchrist erupted into a chaotic brawl, University President Lee Bollinger issued his first public statement to the Columbia student body. Three hours later, two Columbia students squared off in an intense debate on Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor. It was the zenith of a swelling media firestorm that prompted Mayor Michael Bloomberg to publicly call on Bollinger to "get his hands around" the situation and Bill O'Reilly to accuse Bollinger of "hiding under his desk as he always does."

Bollinger, as both the executive of one of the largest institutions in New York and as an academic scholar, embodies two different, and sometimes conflicting, personas.

"He's in such a unique position because he kind of has to balance and respond to things in a more thought-out way than maybe somebody else would because of his constituency," said Chris Riano, GS and a member of the University Senate's Executive Board. "He has to take into account a lot of sides and points of view."

This is especially true in times of crisis. When controversy swirled in 2005 over allegations of intimidation in the Middle East and Asian languages and cultures department, Bollinger said that it took him one month longer than he would have liked to make a statement on academic freedom.

"I found his silence on the MEALAC thing sort of astounding," said Bari Weiss, CC '07, a former Spectator columnist and editor in chief of The Current, who was at the forefront of the MEALAC debate. "I saw him as a wussy and unwilling to ... stand up and take a position."

When asked recently about how he balances executive action with academic reserve, Bollinger said, "I'm tempted to respond to it like an academic." Indeed, when confronting crises Bollinger has tended toward his scholarly roots, staying on the sidelines to formulate a response while his press staff fields calls from the media.

But according to one crisis management consultant, it should be the leader of an institution that makes first contact with the media during a time of crisis. "That doesn't mean you have to have a prepared point of view," said Lonnie Soury of Soury Communications, a crisis management consultant group in New York. "All you are doing is putting out that consideration that you're there and aware of the issues, and that can be done immediately and should be."

Soury said this is necessary to stop an issue from spinning out of control in the media. "Unless they [leaders] act quickly, it leaves it to others to frame the issues and there's a tremendous possibility for misinformation to get out," he said. "I think there really needs to be a balance in leadership positions of understanding complex issues and acting quickly."

Some have said that Bollinger is at his best when he's considering long-term issues with deep complexity, as it keeps him out of the spotlight of controversy that former Harvard President Larry Summers garnered after making several off-the-cuff remarks in public about women in the sciences.

Outside of Columbia's gates, people on both sides of the debate over the proposed Manhattanville expansion have heralded Bollinger's cautious treatment of the subject."

This is a very complicated matter, and he has dealt with it as well as anyone else could have dealt with it," said Jordi Reyes-Montblanc, chair of Community Board 9. "He's a scholar, not a warrior."

Others have suggested that Bollinger's reserved demeanor is actually a strategy in times of crisis. According to Avi Zenilman, CC '07 and editor in chief of The Blue and White, Bollinger will "call everybody on the inside to see that everybody is okay and rely on support for his personal skills, support for his distant demeanor to get him through." This policy, according to Zenilman, is characterized by doing "the minimum that is necessary."

Chris Kulawik, CC '08, a Spectator columnist, and president of the Columbia University College Republicans, said he thought Bollinger adopted that strategy during the aftermath of the Minuteman brawl. "I can understand why President Bollinger wanted to disassociate himself from the controversy. ... That makes sense from a business sense," he said. "But you also have a man who is a free speech scholar ... who, when problems arise, ... throws administrators at you."

When there is less at stake, people say Bollinger is more candid. Weiss, who is a student in Bollinger's class Freedom of Speech and Press, has praised his sense of humor. Riano said that in Executive Committee meetings, "he is pretty quick." He continued, "He'll sit there, he'll digest a situation, and he will come up with something."

The repercussions of Bollinger's style remain to be seen. "I wonder if this crisis management strategy is going to come back to bite him," Zenilman said. "There is only so much that CU people can take of CU being in the news."

Bollinger said that his style in making decisions during crises is the right one. "My goal is to think through things well," he said. "I try to be as self-critical as I can in how I do things."And he said what matters in the end is the quality of the decision. "The more you think through issues, the more you can understand what's at stake and what should be the principles that you should work for ... [and] the better the decision will be."

STAFF EDITORIAL: Neighborhood Feeling

Columbia Spectator
Home > Opinion

STAFF EDITORIAL: Neighborhood Feeling
Issue date: 12/8/06 Section: Opinion

La Rosita was everything that Havana Central will never be-an authentic, family-owned Cuban eatery with cheap prices and a 24-year-long history in Morningside Heights. The restaurant is expected to permanently close by the end of the month because of rising rent. The closing of La Rosita is indicative of greater changes that have been shaping the neighborhood for some time.

With the closings of Movie Place and Wood-O-Rama and the installation of American Apparel and McDonalds, Morningside Heights is beginning to take on the strip mall appearance that now characterizes much of Manhattan. While the large-scale economic factors behind this trend of commercialization are not directly the fault of the University, Columbia should do what it can to preserve the character of the immediate neighborhood.

Rising rents are a fact of New York life, and while Columbia is frequently blamed for the gentrification of West Harlem, independently owned businesses are struggling all through the city. Coliseum Books, one of the largest independent bookstores in New York, also will close before the year's end. There is little the University can do to keep rent down in building it does not own, but in those that it does own, Columbia should keep rents as low as financially possible and discourage chains from moving in. While there is nothing Columbia can do about the broad macroeconomic trends driving the city's rising cost of living, it does have a responsibility to preserve and nurture its immediate community.

In comparison to the neighborhoods surrounding New York University and Fordham University, Morningside Heights has remained relatively chain-free. But recent changes in the neighborhood indicate a trend in the wrong direction. The effects of gentrification are to some degree unavoidable, but they can be mitigated by supporting local businesses that are reflective of the community.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

The Fourth Harlem: Commercial Development

Date: Thu, 07 Dec 2006 10:34:34 -0500
To: "jordi Reyes-Montblanc" , ">>,
From: "Tenant"
Subject: The Fourth Harlem: Commercial Development

The New York Sun
December 7, 2006 Edition > Section: Real Estate > Printer-Friendly Version

The Fourth Harlem: Commercial Development
December 7, 2006

Call it the Fourth Harlem: the Harlem of commercial real estate. If you want to know how lively it is, ask Vornado Realty Trust, one of the largest owners, managers, and developers of commercial real estate ­ and, The New York Sun has learned, the entity heading a joint venture scheduled to build Class A office space north of 96th Street.Earlier this week, I wrote about the Three Harlems ­ east, west, and central ­ and what is happening in residential real estate.

The story of the Fourth Harlem is also full of action.Construction on the joint venture project headed by Vornado Realty Trust is scheduled to begin in April. It involves a mixed-use Class A office and retail center in East Harlem. The Vornado real estate portfolio in New York City comprises 18.3 million square feet of office space in 42 office buildings.

The new tower in East Harlem will be on a parking lot owned by the New York College of Podiatric Medicine at 1800 Park Ave. between 124th and 125th streets. The site is directly across the street from the 125th Street Metro-North rail station and one block from the Lexington Avenue subway station.According to title records, the joint venture of Vornado Realty Trust, Integrated Holdings, and MacFarlane Partners paid $20 million to the leaseholder that had entered into an agreement with the college in 2003. The joint venture will pay an undisclosed sum to acquire the land before closing. Industry leaders estimate that the price will be approximately $40 million; therefore, the total cost of the land is $60 million.

In January 2003, the college entered into a 48-year land lease with 1800 Park Avenue LLC, an entity controlled by Michael Caridi that had planned to develop Harlem Park, a mixed-use complex that would have featured 250,000 square feet of office space, a 204-room Marriott Courtyard Hotel, a spa, restaurants, a 35,000-square-foot event facility, 62,000 square feet of retail space, 100 residential units, and a parking garage.

Speaking at my class at the New York University Real Estate Institute this week, the president of Vornado Office, David Greenbaum, said: "We are planning to build a mixed-use, 600,000 square building, comprised of approximately 500,000 square of Class A office, 100,000 square of retail, and underground parking." He added that "rents in the tower will be approximately 40% less expensive than any new office tower in Midtown Manhattan."

"This tower will provide a benefit package which is very attractive to our company and tenants, which will aid in the reduction of our costs and of the rents paid by our tenants. The net rent for a new tenant after credits and abatement of taxes is in the range of $43 per square foot as compared to $80 to $100 for similar property in Midtown," Mr. Greenbaum said.These credits and exemption programs include an Industrial and Commercial Incentive Program abatement of property taxes for up to 25 years, which reduces the cost of operation by about $25 a square foot for the first 16 years; a Relocation and Employment Assistance Program, a savings of about $10 to $12 a square foot for tenants, and a Brownfield redevelopment tax credit available for the cleanup and redevelopment of a qualified Brownfield site.

"The building would the tallest building in Harlem, and can offer a tenant a branding opportunity," Mr. Greenbaum said. "We have been talking to a number of tenants who are interested in branding the location as their corporate headquarters." Over the years, a number of companies have considered relocation to Harlem, including Black Entertainment Television. A number of government agencies and nonprofits have also expressed interest in relocating its offices to the tower.Major retailers are interested in the retail component of the building, which may include a Nike store, a Starbucks, and a food component to serve both office tenants and the community.

"We made a great mistake that we did not go to Harlem five years ago for commercial and residential development," the managing partner of Apollo Real Estate Advisors, Richard Mack, said. "It is a natural extension of the Upper West and Upper East Side."

"Harlem is an excellent alternative to a company relocating to Jersey City or Long Island City, excellent transportation and infrastructure," the president and chief executive of Cushman & Wakefield, Bruce Mosler, said.Investors and lenders are bullish on the office market in Central Harlem. A year ago, the City Investment Fund and Cogswell Realty Group closed on the recapitalization of two office buildings in Central Harlem. The Cogswell Realty Group had purchased both buildings several years earlier and is completing a physical upgrading and retenanting.

The 14-story, 232,314-square-foot office building at 55 W. 125th St. between Fifth and Lenox avenues, built in 1974, has no vacancies. Tenants in the building include the office of President Clinton, the New York City Administration for Children's Services, Louise Wise, the New York City Housing Authority, and the Social Security Administration.

The office building at 215 W. 125th St., situated between Adam Clayton Powell and Frederick Douglass boulevards, built in 1970, has 170,841 square feet. The building has a 260-spot outdoor parking lot, and its tenants include the local community board and the Department of Labor. The land is owned by the Trustees of Columbia University.

About 128,900 square feet of additional space can be built on the site based upon zoning. Bear Stearns Commercial Mortgage provided securitized financing for these two buildings."Our office tenants are primarily governmental entities or organizations which are funded through federal, state or city programs," the president of the City Investment Fund, Thomas Lydon Jr., said.

"We purchased the properties because we see office rents in these buildings averaging around $30 per square foot, being very cheap relative to other alternatives in the city. The purchase price was at a significant discount to sales in Midtown, even before the recent big run-up in the past year. Additionally the retail space is very successful on 125th Street."New York City is under-retailed, especially in Harlem. It took more than 50 years for the first shopping center to open in Harlem.

At the intersection of 125th Street and Frederick Douglass Boulevard in the heart of Central Harlem, the 285,000-squarefoot retail complex, Harlem USA, opened in April 2000. It was developed by Grid Properties and the Gotham Organization in conjunction with Commonwealth Local Development Corp., an affiliate of Harlem Commonwealth Council, a community-based not-for-profit economic development corporation.Another mixed-use complex is in the planning stages in East Harlem.

This development, to include retail, will be built on a six-acre site on 125th Street in East Harlem. In October, the New York City Economic Development Corporation issued a request for proposals for the sale and development of the site. The development is expected to be a dynamic retail, residential, entertainment, and media destination.

The site consists of three parcels between Second and Third avenues and 125th and 127th streets.The project is expected to include up to 300,000 square feet of national retail space, including 120,000 square feet of specialty retail, restaurants, cinemas, and nightclubs, as well as 50,000 square feet of local retail. Up to 1,000 units of mixed-income housing are recommended, along with about 300,000 square feet of media space and up to 30,000 square feet of space for not-for-profit performing, visual, and media arts. There is also the potential for a hotel.

The project site is at the eastern end of the 125th Street corridor in the Upper Manhattan Empowerment Zone and the East Harlem Empire Zone.

The city owns about 81% of the land that the project site comprises and is seeking to acquire the noncity-owned parcels. Proposals must include an underground replacement facility for the MTA bus storage depot that exists at grade on Parcel A. More than 12 prominent development organizations have expressed interest in the project, including the developers of Harlem USA, a joint venture of Blumenfeld Development and Forest City Ratner, the Related Companies, and Vornado Realty Trust.

The Bloomberg administration has been a great supporter of development all over Manhattan and plans to push for the renovation of La Marqueta, a city-owned property built under the auspices of Mayor La Guardia in 1935 as a public market under the Metro-North viaduct in East Harlem along the Park Avenue Corridor between 111th and 119th streets.

The East Harlem Business Capital Corporation was designated by the administration as developer of La Marqueta Internatiocional, a project to restore fully the historic La Marqueta.

The redevelopment of La Marqueta will include construction of six structures totaling 86,000 square feet over the eight block area. Tenants will range from smaller wholesale and retail fresh foods and food-related businesses to small cafes, anchor restaurants, and a variety of small kiosks.

The project will create more than 500 jobs.Residents of Harlem will have the opportunity to shop at Home Depot, Target, and Best Buy in 2008, when the joint venture of Blumenfeld Development Group and its joint venture partner, Forest City Ratner, complete East River Plaza, a new shopping center located on the site of the Washburn Wire factory. The site consists of 6 acres adjacent to the FDR Drive and the river between 116th and 119th streets.

East River Plaza is a multi-level, 500,000-square-foot retail project with an attached 1,248-space parking facility spanning three city blocks.Other developments planned for Harlem include a possible Macy's department store to anchor a retail development at Lennox Avenue and 125th Street. An 80-room hotel may be in the development stage at the site of an Associated supermarket and Lucy's bar at 124th Street and Frederick Douglass Boulevard.

Commercial and retail developments are taking place all over the city, and, finally, they are reaching the Upper East and West Side in Harlem.

Mr. Stoler, a contributing editor to The New York Sun, is a television broadcaster and senior principal at a real estate investment fund. He can be reached at

December 7, 2006 Edition > Section: Real Estate > Printer-Friendly Version